18 Feb 2022 4:24 AM GMT
In a suo motu writ petition for conservation of wetlands in Tamil Nadu, Madras High Court has asked the state government to submit a status report on the proposal to the Union Govt for declaring 13 sites as 'wetlands of international importance' under the RAMSAR Convention. The matter was taken up in 2017 by the High Court pursuant to Supreme Court directions for the protection of...
In a suo motu writ petition for conservation of wetlands in Tamil Nadu, Madras High Court has asked the state government to submit a status report on the proposal to the Union Govt for declaring 13 sites as 'wetlands of international importance' under the RAMSAR Convention.
The matter was taken up in 2017 by the High Court pursuant to Supreme Court directions for the protection of wetlands.
The first bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy has also instructed Additional Advocate General J. Ravindran to clarify why the government has been sitting on the matter of wetlands when the draft proposals have been submitted to it by the State Wetlands Authority.
AAG assured the Court to come up with an affidavit detailing the proposed action plan and the timeline for notification of wetlands, after consultation with the Principal Secretary of Environment, Climate Change and Forests Department.
It is pertinent to note that the Supreme Court in MK Balakrishnan v. Union of India (2017) had directed the notification of Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 and preservation of wetlands mapped by the Centre.
"In Tamil Nadu, 6.92 per cent of the total area are wetlands. Under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, a notification declaring such areas as wetlands have to be issued. The process has been pending before the Wetlands Authority. In the absence of a recommendation by the Wetlands Authority, the state government cannot notify wetlands. In the absence of notification, the Rules of protection won't apply to such areas", the court noted in the order.
The Amicus Curiae appointed in the matter, Senior Advocate P.S Raman, submitted that Rule 7 of the 2017 Rules mentions preparing a brief document for each of the wetlands identified for notification by the demarcation of wetland boundary, demarcation of the zone of use and land use, ecological character etc.
Amicus Curiae also pointed out that there are several such steps that must be completed before the State Government can designate the wetlands as 'notified wetlands'.
In Tamil Nadu, only identification and preparing the inventorisation of wetlands have been done by the authorities, none of the wetlands have been designated as 'notified wetlands' as per Rule 3(b), submitted the Senior Counsel.
The Amicus also drew the attention of judges to the fact that the High Court has been seized of the matter since 2017. Later, the senior counsel was appointed as Amicus and he submitted a preliminary report dated 8th November, 2018. The matter was not taken up for a couple of years until the High Court took note of the widespread waterbody encroachments and decided to issue directions. Though wetlands were initially added along with water body encroachment cases, they were later bifurcated to be heard separately, added the Amicus.
Senior Counsel P.S. Raman also pointed out that India is a signatory to RAMSAR Convention,1971. In the Wetland Conservation Rules, Rule 3 speaks about the applicability of Rules. According to Rule 3, the rules will be applied to 1) Wetlands categorised as 'wetlands of national importance' under RAMSAR Act, and 2) Wetlands notified by the Central Government, State Government and Union Territory Administration.
The Amicus submitted that only one wetland in Tamil Nadu has been categorised as 'wetlands of international importance' under the Ramsar Convention, Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary in the Nagapattinam District. Neither the areas coming under Pallikaranai marshland nor Kazhaveni wetlands have been notified either under the RAMSAR Convention or by the Government, he added.
He also noted that 12 more sites are currently under consideration to be notified as wetlands by the state government.
Additional Advocate General J. Ravindran requested the court to refer to a Status Report by Tamil Nadu State Wetland Authority (TNSWA) to prove that the state has been taking suitable measures to preserve the wetlands. He added that a proposal for approving 13 sites as wetlands under the RAMSAR Convention has been sent to the Union Ministry of Forest & Environment. Tamil Nadu State Wetland Authority (TNSWA) status report mentioned that the TN Wetlands Mission intended to identify and map 100 wetlands in the state within 5 years and restore their ecological balance.
"You are unable to notify the areas as wetlands. In the absence of notification, the rigours of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules wont apply. Only one wetland has been notified, that too under the RAMSAR Convention... The matter has been pending before the authority for a long time. Unless it is sent to the government, the government will not notify. This pendency has been there for a long time despite the Supreme Court judgment", the court remarked.
Hearing the court, AAG requested that additional time be granted for consulting with the government and filing an affidavit about the timeline for notifying water bodies.
The Madras High Court had observed in 2019 that indiscriminate permission and licence have been granted for shrimp farming in Kazhuveli Wetland. As far as the Pallikarani marshland is concerned, periodical encroachments have been made, both by Government and private entities and the Corporation of Chennai is maintaining dump yard in the marshland, the court observed then.
Case Title: Suo moto v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No: WP/12653/2017 (PIL)